Flashback Friday: Microbiologists discover caffeine-adapted bacteria living in the sludge in their office coffee machine.

By Seriously Science | December 1, 2017 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/Ricardo Bernardo

Photo: flickr/Ricardo Bernardo

We can just imagine the scenario that spawned this paper: a bunch of microbiologists sitting around the lab coffee machine, looking for a way to procrastinate, and voila…coffee machine microbiome! Here, the researchers not only sampled bacteria from 10 different Nespresso machines, but they also “conducted a dynamic monitoring of the colonization process in a new machine” (charge new lab coffee machine to grant: check). They found that bacteria rapidly colonized the sludge that sits inside the machines, and many of these species were adapted to the high levels of caffeine and other compounds found in coffee. We’d suggest that they study what lives in the office fridge next, but really–not even a microbiologist wants to go there!

The coffee-machine bacteriome: biodiversity and colonisation of the wasted coffee tray leach

“Microbial communities are ubiquitous in both natural and artificial environments. However, microbial diversity is usually reduced under strong selection pressures, such as those present in habitats rich in recalcitrant or toxic compounds displaying antimicrobial properties. Caffeine is a natural alkaloid present in coffee, tea and soft drinks with well-known antibacterial properties. Here we present the first systematic analysis of coffee machine-associated bacteria. We sampled the coffee waste reservoir of ten different Nespresso machines and conducted a dynamic monitoring of the colonization process in a new machine. Our results reveal the existence of a varied bacterial community in all the machines sampled, and a rapid colonisation process of the coffee leach. The community developed from a pioneering pool of enterobacteria and other opportunistic taxa to a mature but still highly variable microbiome rich in coffee-adapted bacteria. The bacterial communities described here, for the first time, are potential drivers of biotechnologically relevant processes including decaffeination and bioremediation.”

Related content:
What happens when you give a sadist a cup of bugs and a coffee grinder?
Flashback Friday: Physicists explain why it’s so hard to walk with a cup of coffee.
Flashback Friday: Here’s a list of what’s currently living in your belly button.

  • Joseph Hertzlinger

    Bacteria with insomnia?

  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

    Pseudomonas aeruginosa lives in povidone-iodine. Life will find a way.

  • DW

    This is interesting. Especially the fact that bacteria have adapted to the high concentration of caffeine and have started colonizing their new habitat. However, mold is also often found in the sludge of coffee machines, especially if you forget to empty the container for some time. But as long as it stays in the sludge, it shouldn’t be a problem. It ends up in the trash or compost anyway. Maybe we should all just throw out our pods/filters/capsules immediately after use and avoid this problem altogether. This news should not be alarming. Not all bacteria will kill us. What we should learn from this, however, is how incredibly adaptable bacteria are and how utterly useless our obsession with hand sanitizers and antibiotics is. All we do is create more powerful bacteria, so when we do have to fight them, we can’t. Every year there’s news about a new “superbug” and all doctors can do is watch their patients die.


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Seriously, Science?, formerly known as NCBI ROFL, is the brainchild of two prone-to-distraction biologists. We highlight the funniest, oddest, and just plain craziest research from the PubMed research database and beyond. Because nobody said serious science couldn't be silly!
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